Sparrow Jones was eight years old when the war started. She didn't take much notice.
The Jones family lived in Residential Sector 3, on the outskirts of Garden City. It was a good house - one of the newest in the city, not that that was saying much. New-er than the rest anyway. On the day the war started, the house was empty apart from Sparrow and her younger sister. Sparrow was sitting on her parents' bed, brushing her hair with purpose, carefully dividing it into two bunches and making each one equal before braiding the wispy brown strands. She poked her tongue between her teeth in concentration and picked two matching coloured bands from the drawer.
Tekla wandered into the bedroom still in her nightie, hair sticking up at all angles, and rubbing sleep from her eyes.
Sparrow made a face, 'Tekla -I told you to get ready!' She slid off the bed with a bump.
Tekla stretched her face into a yawn, 'Musta fell asleep again...'
Sparrow seized her little sister by the shoulders and turned her in the direction of the hall. 'Agh. Why do I even...ugh. Just do as you're told in school, OK?'
Sunlight spilled into the hallway through the large glass pane above the stairs. Sparrow marched Tekla along the hall and into their shared bedroom. She pushed the younger girl in the direction of the cupboard, 'Go on, get your vest and knickers. I'll get your new school stuff.'
Tekla shook her head, 'It never came.'
Sparrow stopped, half-way out the door,'What? But they always come, for all the new entry class.'
'Nup, not this time. Heard mum say Ela three doors along hadn't got hers neither.' Tekla grabbed her underwear from the basket and held them up, 'These do?'
'Uh huh...' Sparrow nodded, frowning. Uniforms always got delivered. New for entry class, then every other year after that. 'Have to be my old uniform then. Mum might not have sent it to Clearing yet. Now, get those things on. And get a clean shirt from the pile.'
Sparrow's old uniform was on the bottom shelf of the hall cupboard, neatly folded. She shook the black pinafore out, frowned at it critically, and then crouched on the rug to remove the brightly-coloured metal pin-badges from the shoulder strap.They clinked together heavily as she weighed them up in her hand. Blue for new, red for bled, green for clean, white for fight... Maybe she'd get a green this term.
'Do I get my first badge today?' Tekla asked, putting her arms up in all the wrong places as Sparrow tried to drop the pinafore over her head. Sparrow's only answer was to tug the pinafore down so it hung properly. Tekla wriggled as the belt buckle was tightened. 'Spar..ROW! Do I get my blue badge today?'
Sparrow sighed and dragged the brush through Tekla's short hair, 'Yes. Like everyone else. Since.....forever. C'mon, downstairs. Now.'
The kitchen was warmed by the heat from the big stove. Two plates and cups sat on the scrubbed wooden table, waiting. Sparrow kicked the wash-room door open. 'Go on. You first.' She sat down at the table and chewed the thick slice of bread and butter thoughtfully, washing it down with the milk. Breakfast finished, she knocked on the wash-room door and leaned against the door post. 'You better be done now. Don't want to be late first day of Entry...'
When no answer came, she pushed the door open slowly. Tekla was sitting hunched up on the tiled floor, trying not to cry and twisting her face with the effort. Sparrow crouched down next to her. 'Everyone feels the same. It's not meant to be scary you know...'
Sparrow tried a different tack: 'Pick that towel up, Tickles - Mum put it out fresh last night.'
Tekla uncurled herself and held out the towel with a miserable sniff. 'Mum should be here...'
Sparrow gave her little sister a hug and put the towel back on the hook. 'She will be, I bet she's just got stuck coming back from work. C'mon, hurry up and eat your breakfast.'